German Chancellor Angela Merkel has made a historic visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.
Entering through the notorious gate marked ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’, Merkel lit a candle in memory of those that perished at the death camp during the Shoah.
The first visit of her 14-year tenure, the first by a German chancellor since 1977 and third by any chancellor or German head of government since World War Two, Merkel’s landmark journey came in advance of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the death camp next month.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. Piotr Mateusz Andrzej Cywiński, Auschwitz-Birkenau museum director and Auschwitz-Birkenau foundation president and Dr Josef Schuster, Central Council of Jews in Germany head accompanied the German Chancellor.
World Jewish Congress president Ronald S. Lauder also accompanied Merkel during the visit.
With rising anti-Semitism in Europe and around the world, he thanked Merkel for announcing Germany has committed €60 million to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation to help preserve the memorial site.
“Anti-Semitism remains a vile, pervasive and resurgent force in the world today, making Holocaust education more vital than ever,” Lauder said. “Chancellor Merkel has been a valued and reliable ally in the fight against this oldest of hatreds.
“Preserving and conserving the remains of the Holocaust are critical to maintaining an accurate record of the atrocities committed, especially as the number of living, first-hand witnesses inevitably dwindles. Only by knowing the past can we protect our future, and we are deeply grateful to Chancellor Merkel for her commitment to the preservation of the site where almost one million Jews were brutally murdered by the Nazis only and exclusively because they were Jews.”
Since becoming Chancellor Merkel has paid respects at other Nazi concentration camps and visited Yad Vashem on five occasions.
“This history has to be told, again and again,” she told dignitaries.
“It was a German extermination camp operated by Germans. I place value on stressing this fact. It is important that we clearly identify the perpetrators. We Germans owe this to the victims and we owe it to our ourselves. To keep alive the memory of the crimes committed, to identify the perpetrators and to commemorate the victims in a dignified manner, that is our enduring responsibility. It is not open to any negotiation and is and will forever be an integral part of our country.”
Merkel added that Jewish life is flourishing in Germany.
“We are linked to Israel through manifold and friendly ties,” she noted. “That is anything but to be taken for granted. It is a great gift, akin to a miracle, but it cannot undo the horrors that happened, it cannot bring back to life the Jews that were murdered. There will forever be an empty space in our society.”
WJC honoured Merkel with the Theodore Herzl prize for her efforts to protect and foster Jewish life in Germany and support for Israel earlier this year.
Lauder will return to Auschwitz-Birkenau for International Holocaust Remembrance Day’s 75th anniversary where he will join around 200 survivors together with heads of state and Jewish community representatives from around the world to mark the commemoration on January 27th.
Historians estimated around 1.1 million perished at Auschwitz-Birkenau during World War II. The Soviet Army liberated the camp on January 27th, 1945.
By: Bella Waxler